2015 Another Year of Reading

a year of reading40 books in 2015 – not as many as 2014, but still a decent number.

As with 2014, some were superb, others I did not finish. Most were historical fiction; a few were non-fiction. I read several in my capacity as book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society and the Washington Independent Review of Books, and a few for feature articles in HNS.

I suspect I’m a ‘hard marker’. Here’s the rating system I used last year: LR = light, enjoyable read; GR = good, several caveats; ER = excellent, few caveats; OR = outstanding; DNF = did not finish; NMT = not my type.

The following are from January 2015 to May. I’ve included links to blog posts and reviews where appropriate. I’ll share the balance in a few days.

Jan Penelope Fitzgerald Hermione Lee DNF Biography – far too much detail
Firebird Susanna Kearsley GR Loved The Winter Sea, but I think Kearsley needs to try a new theme
Sisters of Heart and Snow Margaret Dilloway GR HNS feature; the tale of a female samurai; too much present day not enough history
Writing Historical Fiction Marina Oliver GR Much of the advice is very basic
Historical Fiction Writing Myfanwy Cook GR Lots of good advice, research ideas and useful reference sites
Feb The Glory of Life Michael Kumpfmuller GR WIRO book review; last years of Franz Kafka; rich in detail, light on drama
The Heroes Welcome Louisa Young ER HNS Review; A novel about the effects of WWI; highly recommended
Mar The Foundling’s War Michel Deon GR A look at WWII France; present tense and omniscient narrator detract from story
Hell and Good Company Richard Rhodes ER HNS review; non-fiction on Spanish Civil War
All the Light We Cannot See – Pulitzer prize 2015 Anthony Doerr OR A five star IMHO; could not put this WWII novel down
The Wild Girl Kate Forsyth GR A story about the brothers Grimm; pacing slow in parts
Apr The Sandcastle Girls Chris Bojalian GR Book club; blending of past and present did not work for me
The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent Susan Elia MacNeal LR Set during WWII; light mystery
Writing Historical Fiction Katharine McMahon ER A short, straight forward read with some excellent advice
The Historical Novel – post 1 and post 2 Jerome de Groot ER Have read this twice; Traces the roots and impact of historical fiction
Write Away Elizabeth George ER A second read of this book on the craft of writing
The Dinner Herman Koch NMT Book club; not one sympathetic character
The Stranger Harlan Corben LR Audiobook – tense mystery
May Cairo Olen Steinhauer LR Complicated mystery set in Cairo
Pompeii Robert Harris OR Superb story of Pompeii’s destruction
The First Five Pages (a second reading) Noah Lukeman ER Great practical advice for writers
Scent of Triumph Jan Moran NMT Book review; far too melodramatic
The Secret Life of Violet Grant Beatriz Williams ER Great voice; strong blend of present day and past
Personal Lee Child LR Audiobook; good mystery for a long drive

Two outstanding reads, seven excellent ones.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Manuscript revision – Part 2

The First Five Pages by Noah LukemanBased on the number of shares on WordPress, Twitter and Facebook, Manuscript Revision – advice from a pro was quite popular. Here’s part 2 based on Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages.

Hooks

  • Hooks are propellants and help set expectations for readers.
  • Hooks can also establish character, narrator, or setting and convey a shocking piece of information
  • They apply to opening lines, paragraphs, pages and chapters. Chapter hooks are important.
  • Set the tone for the book
  • Strive for maintained intensity throughout the story, not just the intensity of the first line/paragraph.
  • “Don’t write an opening for the sake of the opening, but for the sake of the story that follows.”
  • Dialogue as the opening hook is very hard to do.
  • Keep hooks going throughout the novel.

Subtlety

  • An unsubtle MS will have an inflated feel—inflated with superfluous words, phrases, dialogue, and run-on scenes (scenes that are far too long)
  • Less is more; Leave some things unsaid; be minimalist
  • If you underestimate your reader, you alienate him/her.
  • Discipline yourself to withhold information
  • Embrace confusion; leave a little mystery

Tone

  • Tone – witty, mocking, sarcastic, serious, intimate, nostalgic, angry, brazen, arrogant, condescending, formal, stuffy, serious, self-important, happy, sad – is the voice behind the sound and style of your work
  • Tone needs to suit the manuscript and the purpose of your text
  • Tone needs to suit the narrator/protagonist

Focus

  • “Each chapter must be thought of as its own complete unit, ready to excerpt should a magazine want it.” Keep this thought in mind for paragraphs and sentences as well.
  • Do you resolve in the end of the chapter what you establish in the beginning?
  • Paragraphs should have a beginning-middle-end just like chapters do.
  • Events that are introduced should be resolved.
  • If a sentence, paragraph, scene or chapter does not further the intention of progression of the work, it should be cut.
  • Don’t introduce characters without telling us what happens to them.
  • Don’t introduce a harrowing event without telling the reader the outcome.
  • Review every chapter/scene/paragraph to see if it meets the goals set out.
  • Check that the puzzle of sentences, paragraphs, scenes and chapters are focused as a whole (like puzzle pieces).

Setting

  • Settings must not stop the flow of the narrative.
  • Settings must come to life.
  • Characters should interact with their settings.
  • Settings should have an effect on characters.
  • Unfold settings slowly.
  • Most settings are brought to life through tiny details (a cobweb in the corner, a stain on the carpet, a broken window pane).
  • Draw on all five senses when bringing a setting to life – smell, sound, sight/light, feeling, taste.

Pacing and Progression

  • High stakes (tension) are part of pacing.
  • Pacing is off if you take too long getting from A to B to C in plot development.
  • Too much telling and too much description slow the pace.
  • Dialogue accelerates pace .. but watch out for too much dialogue in your text.
  • Look for places where pacing is too fast and those where it is too slow.

I’ve written two other posts on pacing: Take it Slow, Take it Fast and Ten Thoughts About Pacing Your Novel.

I hope these notes from Noah Lukeman’s book are helpful.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Manuscript revision – advice from a pro

The First Five Pages by Noah LukemanNo, I’m not the pro, but Noah Lukeman is. Lukeman is the author of The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. As an experienced literary agent based in New York City whose clients include Pulitzer prize nominees and New York Times bestselling authors, Noah Lukeman knows a thing of two about finding top-notch manuscripts to represent. And he presents his advice simply and succinctly, using lots of examples to illustrate his points.

I’ve been revising Time & Regret so a book designed to help writers stay off the rejection pile seemed an excellent one to reread. I thought some of you might be interested in the notes I took as a result. Today’s post will be part one of two.

Overuse of adjectives and adverbsavoid the use of common adverbs or adjectives and the use of adjectives or adverbs when a stronger noun or verb would do

  • Fewer adjectives and adverbs forces readers to use their imagination – engages them in story building
  • As you edit, remove all but one, find stronger nouns and verbs, substitute comparisons that create a visual for the reader

Revise for sound by reading your MS aloud

Use comparisons to cut down on description

  • Avoid cliché comparisons (such as ‘sweating like a pig’, ‘dropped like flies’)
  • Strive for specificity in comparisons
  • Use comparisons sparingly

Dialogue is a powerful tool, to be used sparingly, effectively and at the right moment.

  • Dialogue should illuminate character, move story along, prompt emotion
  • Avoid too many attributions (he said, she said)
  • Avoid long sections of dialogue without any description; at the same time avoid too many interruptions to your dialogue
  • Dialogue is dramatic … writers need to learn restraint in dialogue, allow each scene to unfold slowly, giving the reader time to absorb it
  • Make sure dialogue reflects the character
  • Avoid commonplace dialogue “Hi Sue” “See you tomorrow”
  • Avoid using dialogue to state things both characters already know
  • Watch out for melodramatic dialogue
  • Silence is often a better way to convey drama
  • Substitute dramatic action for dramatic dialogue – example: don’t have your character yell and curse the husband who has asked for a divorce, flush the wedding ring down the toilet

Show don’t tell

  • Show don’t tell leaves room for ambiguity and interpretation in the reader’s mind
  • Allow the reader to enter a world as he or she sees it – don’t describe it too much detail
  • Check for places with excessive description, or where characters are introduced (often a place for too much telling)
  • Instead of saying ‘his wife was abusive’ show her hitting him.
  • Eliminate passages with a dry, synopsis-like feel
  • Try introducing characters through their actions, rather than using narrative or dialogue
  • Evoke mood through description not by telling reader what the mood is
  • Have character A tell us about character B, not only to learn about B but to learn A’s perspective

Viewpoint characters

  • A common problem is a viewpoint character with no real viewpoint, no voice, no originality
  • Readers must feel strongly about viewpoint characters
  • Avoid having viewpoint characters who know what some other character is thinking

Characterization

  • Eliminate stock or cliché characters and character traits
  • Don’t introduce too many characters at once (confuses the reader); Stagger character introduction
  • Avoid extraneous characters
  • Avoid generic character descriptions
  • Create characters readers will care about
  • Characters are your plot – their needs, wishes, developments
  • Don’t introduce people by name unless they’re significant
  • Describe uncommon aspects of a character – not just their eyes, hair, nose
  • Remember, readers don’t want the ordinary, the everyday, they want to be captivated

So that’s round one with Noah Lukeman. Part 2 covers hooks, subtlety, tone, focus, setting, pacing and progression. I hope these are helpful. Gotta get back to my editing!

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.